Friday, March 15, 2013
Nippon Extremities: Okinawa XI (Miyako)
March 5, 2003
Ohhhh.... Horrid hangover on the champuru of beer, chardonnay, and awamori. (Even now in 2013, it still ranks as the worst I've ever had.) The hotel owner rang me at 8:30 to come down for breakfast, but I could only muster up the strength to eat a little rice, the kiwi, and a few bites of oily fish. But after the cold rice and that dead fish eye looking up at me, I went back upstairs and lay down for a couple more hours.
I met Anzei at 11 o'clock, and we headed out into the sticks, sugar cane fields absolutely everywhere, a few of them with terraced walls like a Japanese castle. We wandered out to the end of the Higashihenzaki, the China Sea to the left, Pacific to the right, both different in color. Just offshore was a perfectly circular reef, a few jagged teeth sticking out of the water. Porous stones dotted the brilliant green grass, soft and smooth as a putting green. I went to the edge of the cliff and looked down at the crags below before I was driven back by the vertigo that has accompanied me since my son's death.
A few kilometers away was Yoshino Beach, with supposedly the best snorkeling in Japan. The reef here is shallow, close in, and the fish come up quickly. I wanted to swim badly, but even watching the swells made me feel nauseous. On the beach was a large rock perfectly shaped like a chair, so I sat there awhile allowing the wind and the sun (which had finally made an appearance) work on my hangover. The sea here was glorious.
At the edge of the beach was a tarp-covered shelter built of driftwood. Oji-san had been living there for a couple of years. Born Take-san, he was more artist than homeless, making things from the coral, glass, and wood that the sea had given him. He had amazing sense, able to visualize a use for the shapes that he saw in the sand. His hut was lined with these things, bordering the books and photos laying around. A single pitch-black kettle hung over an open fire, one of his "students" boiling water by blowing through a bamboo tube. His feet were as black as the kettle. There were a few people living with him, including one girl from Sapporo who was staying for a few days, sitting there polishing a piece of wood in order to make a self-massager.
As we sat on styrofoam floaters, he put the two of us to work, mixing straps of string and coral, looping one end around our big toe, left hand pulling taut, the right hand working the string around and around. His left hand shook violently as he worked. (Jeff later told me that he was pretty sick with Minamata disease. The city suggested that he enter the hospital, but he felt that he could relax better out here.) He gave me some noodles, but with my bad stomach I couldn't really manage it. He finished them for me, not wanting to waste anything. Looking around, that point was obvious. Some people might see junk. I saw a man living his bliss.
Anzei and I spent the rest of the day driving toward places but never really arriving. The day sort of flowed by. There were an incredible amount of roads for such a small island. Judging by the many construction projects I saw, I think that the local government had an inflated sense of the value of this island's attractions. Forget the tourists, let the locals live their way, and most people would come simply to appreciate this.
As Anzei and I drove around, we talked about her life on Miyako. She had lived in the States for five or six years, studying various kinds of dance, before coming back last fall in order to work on some choreography, and to focus on belly dancing. She, like most I've met in the Ryukyus, was a very spiritual person. We talked a lot on spiritual matters, but I got little insight into local beliefs. She smiled as I clapped my hands at random utaki. But I didn't feel the power of the gods here like I had on Okinawa. This flat island, though incredibly beautiful with its cane fields and clean beaches, didn't offer much to me.
We drove over to Kurima Island, the third I'd been on in two days. Anzei told me the story of a woman visited at night by a handsome man. She put a needle in his kimono and later followed the thread to find a large snake, but she had already already impregnated by him with triplets. Hence the three islands. (So do the recently built bridges represent the snake?)
We stopped off at Maebara, called the best beach in Japan, the water emerald green, the sand soft as flour. It was the first time all day that my hangover had subsided enough for me to swim, but by then the clouds had come back over, so we merely stayed on the beach and ate ice cream. The only person in the water was a guy with what looked like a reverse parasail. Standing on the water with short skis, he'd be pulled along by his small, crescent-shaped parachute, rising and spinning in the air before being slapped back down on the water. I watched a long time, trying to figure out how he was controlling the thing.
Back in my room, I slept from four to six, then met Jeff at seven. He had ditched work, and wore a disguise as we went to a restaurant at the center of town. Both tired and hungover, we ate quietly. It was the first food I'd been able to get down today. I had tried my usual strategy of eating to get on top of the hangover, but nothing seemed appealing. Even after eating a fair amount of really good food, I went back to my room by nine, and was in bed by ten...
March 6, 2003
...as there was a little sun, I went to the beach. This close to the harbor, the water though clear wasn't as inviting as the other places I'd seen. After about thirty minutes, it clouded over again, so I gave up.
At the airport, I ate my last goya champuru for awhile. Due to the heavy rain, we were two hours late taking off. When my plane arrived, people coming from Ishigaki disembarked, and I was amazed at the beauty of their faces, looking almost nothing like Japanese and more like the Islanders further to the south, but with the big eyes and hooked noses of the European, perhaps Portuguese. We lifted off through one layer of cloud into a patch of clear air, then into more cloud. It was like an empty sandwich. Far below us, another plane matched out speed, cutting the tops off clouds...
On the turntable: Sneaker Pimps, "Splinter Instrumentals"